New Jersey might take a lot of heat from other states, but we natives know the truth: NJ is full of talented, ambitious, and creative local residents. Your self-proclaimed New Jersey BFF, The Montclair Girl has launched a monthly series where we highlight 5 locals, from Montclair + beyond, who check all these boxes… and then some. From entrepreneurs to fitness enthusiasts, these residents are leaving their mark right here in the Garden State. Here are 5 New Jersey local people to watch for the month of November.
Toby Bavli | Owner of The MAX Challenge of Montclair
Toby Bavli is the owner of The MAX Challenge of Montclair and its sister location in Madison. Serving the North Jersey area for over eight years, Toby and her team have created deep connections within the community.
Toby is a mother of two daughters and lives in Springfield with her family. In a previous life, she was an elementary school teacher in Newark — and it was during her time as a teacher she discovered how instrumental exercise can be for mental well-being. Eventually, she took the plunge to take fitness full-time and opened The MAX Challenge locations.
With eight years under her belt, Toby still hopes to see her business grow, but creating a community of strong-minded individuals has always been her priority. She shared with MG, “The more people who we can help with their own struggles with fitness and health, the stronger our MAX community becomes.”
Toby anticipates “many more years of welcoming new members into the MAX Challenge family.” She values her members most: “We are nothing without our MAX members and their success — we are simply the facilitators of the program,” she said. “We have experienced our share of peaks and valleys, but our philosophy has never wavered.”
Toby’s favorite Montclair spots: “For quick bites, Jackie’s Grillette, Charm Thai Cuisine, and Falafel Hut on Valley Road in town. I’m also a supporter of the Montclair Public Library and Watchung Booksellers. We must keep learning and growing.”
Jackie Nese | Singer + Songwriter
Montclair resident Jackie Nese wears many hats: singer, songwriter, dancer, podcast host, to name a few. A Montclair State University alum, Jackie had a brief stint in Hoboken but returned home to Montclair earlier this year.
As an independent recording artist, she has released music on different streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. She believes “music can bring people joy, peace, comfort, and understanding.” Jackie plans to continue releasing music and hopes to forge a community around her art.
Jackie is also a host of the growing podcast, “Maybe She’s From Jersey.” On the podcast, Jackie and her best friend/co-host Alyx Curtis y discuss the trials + tribulations of adulting in New Jersey. The Montclair Girl founder, Jen Tripucka, was a guest on “Maybe She’s from Jersey,” and you can listen to the episode here.
When she’s not creating, you can find Jackie making pizza or making people laugh. Like we said: many hats.
Tiffany Montesino | Founder of Velvet Lush Studio
Tiffany is no stranger to the Montclair shopping scene. Formerly the owner of the popular Montclair clothing boutique, Velvet Lush, Tiffany recently relocated the shop to Hawthorne. Operating under the same name, Velvet Lush is now a permanent jewelry studio with a coffee shop inside.
Tiffany’s new endeavor was largely inspired by her travels and a desire to try something different. Despite the geographic change, however, she still wants to be an inspiration for her community, which she describes as “highly vibrational.”
On October 28th, Tiffany held a soft opening for Velvet Lush and is already imagining what the future of her business will look like. She says that she wants to “continue to grow and introduce [her] brand to the ends of the earth.”
Favorite part about living in the North Jersey area: “My favorite thing about living in NJ is the different cultures. You can literally find different businesses that sell foods from all over the world — African, Mediterranean, Portuguese, Caribbean, Asian, and Italian!”
Yana Robbins | Ambassador for “I Want to Mow Your Lawn”
Yana Robbins is a multi-faceted, Montclair-based entrepreneur with many professional endeavors — most recently bringing free lawn services to Montclair for senior and disabled citizens.
Yana has always been interested in plants, and has “amassed a lot of foraging knowledge over the years.” She even took an advanced gardening class at Rutgers University. Her recent work with the non-profit “I Want to Mow Your Lawn” doesn’t come at random: after the town’s ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, Yana wanted to combine her passions for gardening and volunteering. This project was largely inspired by nature, “beautiful gardens around town, visits to The Farm and other large plant nurseries that have an endless selection of plant varieties.”
Yana’s favorite Montclair spots: “Love the coffee at Local, the organic tofu scramble at Bluestone Coffee, the vegan Greek salad at Montclair House Grill, Saturday strolls through the farmers market (which wouldn’t be complete without focaccia bread at Jed’s), the Watchung Bookstore, and the Avis-Campbell Garden, near the Fullerton library, it’s so peaceful and looks different every week!”
Learn more about Yana and her work with “I Want to Mow Your Lawn” here.
Monique + Monica Hudson | Owners + Founders of Coffee + Cornbread
If you’re a Montclair local, you’ve probably heard (and better yet, are a fan) of the organically-based restaurant, Coffee + Cornbread. The local food spot was founded by two sisters, Monique and Monica. Recently, however, the spot has announced it’s relocating to Belleville after suffering a scam incident. Of course, locals are invited to continue indulging in the breakfast + coffee goodness that is Coffee + Cornbread.
The sisters wanted to create comfort food that doesn’t only taste good but feels good, too. They “take pride in delivering a great taste that’s both wholesome and pure.” Each menu item is crafted with meticulous detail, and the ingredients — which are entirely plant-based — are “free from genetically modified organisms.”
Monique shared with MG, “What drives me to cook is the joy it brings me, and I cherish the sense of the community we create with our customers.” As the sister duo makes their way to Belleville, their goal remains the same: to “transform the way people perceive breakfast.”
Monique’s favorite Montclair spots: “Kreme + Krumbs, Whole You Detox Spa, Dino’s Pizza, Belgiovine, and Salon 121.”
If you or someone you know would like to be considered for our next batch of people features, please fill out this Google Form. Looking forward to reading your stories!